The holiday season is one of togetherness and closeness, and as pets take on a more important role in our lives they are increasingly a big part of the holiday festivities.
During this otherwise joyous season, a few pet dangers are lurking, though. I hope this information from my side of the equation as an emergency and critical care veterinarian helps keep your pet safe during all the fun and avoids dangerous and expensive trips to the pet ER.
I think this time of year holds all sorts of potential for pet mayhem. Chocolate, pies, bones, tinsel “people food”- — all sorts of possibilities for getting into furry trouble! I love the holidays, but we definitely see an uptick in the emergency cases as people start to cook, bake and visit their way towards the New Year
Several imagined (but not all that bad) dangers about the holidays seem to have taken on a life of their own in pet owners’ minds, while some things that actually can present a hazard go overlooked.
Seems like some folks think that their pet being anywhere within a three-block radius of a Poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) will cause Mr. Whiskers to spontaneously explode, but you can rest assured that this common sight around the holidays will not usher your pet across the Rainbow Bridge anytime soon. Yes, if eaten in sufficient quantities, the Poinsettia can cause a mild and usually temporary stomach and intestinal upset, but this is more of a risk for your carpet than it is for your pet.
Among plants that can pose a hazard are mistletoe (causes more serious gastrointestinal and potentially heart issues), and lilies (which can cause lethal kidney failure in cats at very small amounts).
Chocolate is often cited as posing a humongous threat to dogs. I don’t want to advocate feeding any chocolate to dogs, but if your 95-pound Great Pyrenees eats two M and M’s, you’re going to be fine, trust me. It takes quite a bit of milk chocolate to cause problems – somewhere around one pound of chocolate for 30 to 40 pounds of body weight.
Chocolate is often used by people to help heal a broken heart, but in dogs (if they eat enough of it) that’s just what it can cause: The signs of true chocolate poisoning are racing heartbeat, irregular heart rhythm and high blood pressure.
We see many cases in the ER of pets who have eaten a medium amount of chocolate and are just a bit “amped,” but are not really in any danger.
It can present a toxic hazard, though; dark chocolate is worse (it takes far less to cause symptoms) and baking chocolate is even more toxic than dark chocolate. So if you are cooking with chocolate this season, save it for the revelers and not the retrievers!
I think the biggest “threats to pets” probably come from the same threats to your waistline and chances to fit into your “skinny pants” – FOOD! The holiday season is all about food (yeah – and love and family and all that other stuff, too!) and there’s plenty of it to be had: cookies, roast beast, puddings and more cookies! To you, it may just mean another hour on the stair-stepper, but to your dog (luckily, cats are usually smarter than to overeat during the holiday season) it can cause real problems.
Vomiting and diarrhea are common after eating too much food meant to be served to human guest (the medical term we throw about is “dietary indiscretion”) and this can proceed onto a more serious condition called pancreatitis in some cases. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the same gland that makes digestive enzymes as well as insulin. So, when the pancreas becomes inflamed, it releases these enzymes and begins digesting itself – this can be very serious, painful and often requires hospitalization.
It is probably a good idea to either keep pets confined during any holiday parties, or make sure guests (especially kids) know not to give treats to your pets. Dogs have been known to drag an entire turkey off the counter when the owner’s back is turned (you know the dog has gotta be thinking: SCORE!!!) so make sure you keep aware of their whereabouts during meal preparation.
If you do want to include your pet in the meal and fun, stick to a bit of lean turkey and low or no-fat veggies (no onions, though – these can cause problems for dogs).
This stringy, silvery and not-at-all-edible stuff can get all twisted up in the intestinal tract (usually cats — guess that feline smarts only goes so far) and cause real problems. Keep it above cat-level on the tree and consider not using it at all.
Boy, I sure feel like a buzzkill! First, I am telling you that chocolate and food are potential no-no’s for pets and now here I am taking all your fun away! Sadly, it is true — don’t get your Doberman drunk this New Year’s. Make sure that all the boozy party leftovers are well out of reach, and no lampshade-wearing guests try to give your Pug a mug of beer! While not as poisonous as some of the other things on this list, no one wants so see a Bassett with a hangover — it’s just too sad to even conceive of!
The Open Door:
People come and go way more during the holidays than other times of year, and all that traffic can lead to plenty of opportunities for escape. We see many pets who make a break for freedom when Uncle Floyd comes a-callin’ with his special tuna surprise! Dogs and cats can dart out the door without anyone even noticing, and there’s a whole big world of hurt just waiting for them out there. Make sure that pets are safely put away when you are expecting guests, and make a nightly head count to make sure that all the furry family members are accounted for before turning in for your visions of sugar plums.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center also has some great holiday pet safety tips here.
Happy holidays to you and yours! Here’s hoping you have a safe and sane season, and all family members make it through safely, no matter how many legs they have. And that if you see an ER doc like me, it’s socially, not professionally. Written by Dr. Tony Johnson.